Holden at 65

Posted: Feb 05, 2014 8:05 PM
Holden at 65

(With apologies to J.D. Salinger)

It was the end of the day at Caulfield and Caplan on Madison, and time for Holden's daily conference and drink with his junior partner, which over the years had become more drink than conference. Most of the offices in the executive suite were already empty, though a few of the more upwardly mobile types, or who wanted Holden to think they were, still had their lights on and computers up.

Holden was thinking about how he had once looked forward to these little jousts with Leon -- the wise old mentor taking the young comer under his wing and all that phony baloney -- and wondering if he could somehow get out early.

Maybe an imaginary appointment with a potential client? No, Leon might check it out. He was finicky that way. A good bookkeeper. If only he were as good an adman. For years Holden had had to do the creative thinking for both of them. Creative Thinking -- another of Leon's phony phrases. It was bad enough to hear Leon's adjargon every day, Holden thought, and now he was thinking in it. Another few years, or maybe few weeks, and he wouldn't be able to think in anything else. The prospect filled him with dread, like coming down with Parkinson's or Alzheimer's.

< Or eczema. Appearances had always come first with Holden, which is why he hated phonies and wanted to look real, the sure sign of a phony. He'd built whole ad campaigns around the theme. ("Feeling a little peaked? Do you look in the bathroom mirror first thing in the morning and see only a large fish blinking its aqueous eyes and burbling back at you? Have your kids moved off and forgotten you? Has your wife started resembling a giant squid? Is your sex drive approaching Empty even as your appetite for Financial Security and Lavish Home Entertaining overflows the tank? Then try Dr. Morgentheimer's Wonder Mouth, Dental and Gastro-Intestinal Wash! You'll love it and people will love you for using it!")

Now that's Creative Thinking! In overdrive. Holden wondered how he'd be able to keep it up. Or why. To sell more shampoo and lipstick and boxes of the New Miracle Household Detergent for You and Your Family?

Holden told himself Leon could always find another Creative Thinker for C&C even if he thought his senior partner was irreplaceable. It's when the bunch at the bar tell you you're just as good as ever that you're not. Not that Holden wasn't still that good, but lately he'd started wondering if he'd ever been. He was starting to doubt his own ad copy, and here he'd spent all those years polishing his image -- in ways Leon would scarcely be aware of. The right briefcase and brunette at dinners with clients, the right closer at the end of a sales meeting, the right drink in the club car on the 8:15 back to Greenwich....

Leon wouldn't notice the careful planning it took to be casual. He couldn't know, not with his adman's vocabulary. It had been overrun by verbal weeds years ago. Like those eroded fields all around old Pencey Prep, as dried-out as the school itself when he'd left. All those phonies. Not that he wasn't one now. All he'd wanted back then was to be a Catcher in the Rye -- just a kind of nursemaid for little kids, really. His ambitions had grown since then. Or shrunk. He couldn't decide which. All he knew was that he needed a drink. Or maybe to lay off. He couldn't decide about that, either.

Now that he had his name on an office door, maybe Pencey would invite him back to address the seniors. Even if he'd been kicked out. And should have been. The way he ought to kick himself out of Caulfield and Caplan. It was about time.

Or maybe he'd just switch to whiskey sours. To match his mood. Malt does more than Milton can to justify God's ways to man -- or at least the next two-page spread on the latest designer gowns or sports cars. God isn't dead exactly, but maybe He's taking a vacation. Which is what I need, Holden thought, a long one. Like retirement.

Maybe, he thought, I could take up thinking again. If I haven't forgotten how. And spotting phonies again. But without the odd sensation that I was looking at myself, the way I do now whenever I pass a mirror, storefront, or a pair of woman's eyes.

"What we've got to do," Leon was saying between sips of his single-malt Scotch, "is amortize the adjoining suite when we buy it, and do something choiceful about the BMW account. It's time to open the kimono and see what flags are getting salutes when we send 'em up the old flagpole, don't you know. Unless we're ready to take a 360 approach and get down to the touch points, the new normal is going to pass us by before we go all the way to bright on social media, since that's the only kind of media left. At the end of the day, unless we monetize all that, we'll be so far behind the curve we'll never be able to update our image and rebrand...."

All of which left Holden with only one question: When the hell did we switch from blended to single malt around here -- when we'd gotten the Laphroaig account? Oh, well, at least the stuff numbed the pain of all that adspeak. Holden couldn't understand a word of it anymore. And was afraid he would want to if he stuck around one more day. Better to quit while he was losing -- his mind, that is -- and was no longer quick enough to understand every new instant cliché that came along at the speed of all those tweets and twitters, speeding up the brain while slowing the mind. His iPhone was full of them, all waiting for a reply while Leon was talking, talking, talking....

Holden looked at his watch. Noticeably but not too noticeably. He never wanted to hurt Leon, who was doing his best, more's the pity. "Geez," he said, "Wouldya look at the time! I gotta meet the L'Oreal people at Perla and still make the 8:45. Hold the fort, wouldya Leon? We'll talk about it first thing Monday morning, when we're fresh." And he was out the automatic doors, thinking: Yeah, first thing Monday morning, when we're fresh. Yeah, that'd be the perfect time to quit.